High school for me was a pretty negative experience, and as a result, I made a swift decision to apply early to a college in North Carolina, where none of my Boston-based classmates would be going, signing a contract promising to go if I got in. I was accepted to what I thought was my dream school, made the dance team, and things finally seemed to be going right for me. I met a roommate in one of the Facebook pages, and was really excited to head down there in August.
However, when I got there for dance team pre-season, that should have been my first clue to grab my bag and head for the hills. The girls were, simply put, not like me. I immediately quit, which did a number on my self-esteem and my identity, as dancing was the only thing that had remained a constant in my life for so many years. The more time I spent there the more I felt like I just did not belong. A school that promised authentic and genuine friendships and connections was really turning out to be a “rich-kid” school. Although I had a nice group of friends, none of them needed or wanted to get a job, and while our interests were the same our values were not.
There were a number of disasters that happened my freshman year, but they all culminated in a really bad illness that actually left me on bed rest for several months. During this time, I reflected on what I wanted out of a college experience, and determined living closer to home, a bigger school, and more thoughtful peers were much more important to me than I initially predicted. It was really heartbreaking to transfer, not because I would miss my school because I felt like I had tried to build a great life for myself, after not having that for so long, and that I had failed. It made me feel a little hopeless, like maybe I was not destined to have the fulfilling college experience I longed for.
My first semester at UMass Amherst was overwhelming, to say the least. I still struggled with some of the basic college issues — navigating living with a new person, getting lost on campus, managing my time, but I found that this school was actually a way better fit for me than the “dream school” I had imagined in my head. Still, nothing is perfect, but by the time I graduated I had so many incredible memories to look back on, friends to plan on seeing soon, and professors to keep in touch with.
It was no easy journey, and for the first semester I cried every day and called my mom asking her to pick me up. The difference here was I had support systems and enough good things going on for me to balance out the hard days. Transferring was one of the hardest things I did. Because while I knew my other school was not right for me, leaving behind a group of friends after living in loneliness all through high school was terrifying. But once I was back in my element, at a school that was right for me, everything did eventually work itself out.
This is not to say that transferring is the answer to your problems, because it is not. But college isn’t like high school, you don’t just get to go home at the end of the day. You live there, eat there, make friends there, and work out there. It is important to at least like where you are because it becomes your entire life. At UMass, I felt more comfortable, I had friends more similar to myself than at my previous school, and I had classes I was excited about and a culture on campus that was more consistent with my own values, morals, and personality. Over time, the combination of these things made it possible for me to feel good again, and I found that while the “perfect” experience I had always been chasing was not what I was having (Because it doesn’t exist!), I had great friends and opportunities, available to me because being back in my element allowed me to be myself and gave me the boost and safety net I needed to try new things and take risks.
It’s okay to be sad or mad or disappointed about transferring. But of all the emotions you are bound to experience, try not to feel ashamed or guilty. It isn’t your fault that you didn’t find what you were looking for, and you are entitled to and deserving of building a life that works for you.